The Deinothere’s Forest and the Noah’s Ark Trap

Let me share now the genesis of yet another of the oil paintings I did for the “National Geographic Book of Prehistoric Mammals”. That project left me a bittersweet taste because on one hand it allowed me to create a series of scenes I had longed to do for quite some time, but on the other hand the deadlines were so tight that I barely had the time to enjoy the process -or even to think much about what I was doing!
This painting depicts a scene from the Early Miocene of France, a time when the faunas of Europe, previously more isolated, were enriched by the arrival of immigrant species from Africa, such as the proboscideans, and from North America, such as the horses.
As happened with many of my illustrations, this idea had been on my mind for years and it had been left out from a previous project, in this case from the book “Mammoths, Sabertooths, and Hominins”. Like other scenes intended for that book, I planned it as a vertical composition, in order to fit the design constrains of that volume, so when I recovered the idea for ·”Prehistoric Mammals” the first thing I had to do was to change the format to horizontal.

Here is the first concept sketch for the scene, back when it was planned to be a vertical composition for “Mammoths Sabertooths and Hominids”

Once I redesigned the scene I also decided to make my life a bit simpler by excluding the primitive deer from the composition. The primitive deinotheres (Prodeinotherium), the three-toed horses (Anchitherium) and the mongooses (Leptoplesictis) together with all the greenery, were enough to keep me busy for a good while.

Here is the preliminary pencil sketch for the horizontal version of the scene

As in the other examples I have commented previously, I went for a rapid color sketch where I established the basic palette I would use in the final painting.

Here is the quick color sketch

One final step I always took before attacking a big canvas was to make a schematic outline of the final sketch and draw a grid on top, to help me transfer the composition faithfully to the bigger format. In this step I omitted one of the Anchitherium horses, in order to simplify things a bit more and also because it looked odd that the head of the poor creature was hidden by the deinotheres…

Here is the line sketch with the grid for transfer

So I finally started painting, and only then I realized that, not for the first time, I had fallen in the dreaded “Noah’s Ark Trap”. By this I mean an unconscious propensity of mine to include always two individuals of each species in a scene, no more and no less! I am not sure why that happened so often to me, but the case is I wouldn’t notice until it was too late, and the effect could be, as in this case, a bit awkward. So I decided to bring back the third horse and to delete one of the mongooses…
Good intentions but not enough time: out went the mongoose but I literally didn’t have the time to do the horse, even though, having no head, it would have been simpler to paint!
That mad race to finish such a big collection of oil paintings in record time left me so exhausted that, for better or worse, it was the start of my digital epoch. The easel still seems to look at me regretfully from the closet where it has rested for more than a decade. Only time will tell if I can take it out in a more relaxed, leisurely time. I can´t say now.

Here is the final painting as it appeared in “Prehistoric Mammals”

Posted on 29/08/2017, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thank you for sharing the back story on this (and also on the “running S. populator’ image in “Sabertooth” – I liked that, too). These pictures are so clear and realistic that we don’t realize the human dimension behind them.

  2. Fantastic insight. What was the time scale exactly? If you wouldn´t mind sharing, I’d be interested: how many images in what time frame?

    • Well, Prehistoric Mammals was a profusely illustrated book. I did 58 oil paintings for it in approximately a 2 year period, plus over 40 mixed technique illustrations. A colleague also contributed several mixed technique pieces, and I included in the book many previously existing illustrations. A lot of stuff really.

  3. Peter Kersbergen

    I just had the pleasure of what I experienced as an original painting and not a copy when I was at the Museo de la Evolucion Humana in Burgos and the first thing I saw was the painting of Atlantic gallry woodland ( pl 16 in mammoths, sabertooths and Hominids)
    The colours are so much vivid in the original then in the print in the book.
    Had it not been a 5 hour busdrive from Burgos I would had gone to the Altamira exibition.

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